Alaska is a frontier state with a tiny population relative to its vast wilderness spanning from pine forests to mountains, from raging rivers to seas. When you embark on a getaway in Alaska, look forward to exploring the rugged countryside via hikes, fishing excusions, and tours. Aside from outdoor recreation, there are plenty of activities based in towns such as visiting breweries and top-notch museums, as well as dining at local restaurants. Take a look at the best places to book a vacation rental in Alaska for your weekend getaway.

1. Ketchikan

Westside Ketchikan
Source: Flickr/Sonny Side Up!

Ketchikan lies in southern Alaska, on the panhandle that runs alongside British Columbia, making it relatively close to both Juneau and Seattle, Washington. This town’s charms go beyond its location on the Inside Passage and seaside status; it’s also home to the wild beauty of Misty Fjords National Monument. This area was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, leaving behind jagged mountains, rolling forests, and plunging fjords thick with wildlife, waterfalls, and rivers. Opt for a rafting or boating tour of the area. You don’t have to go far to see the wildlife either. The river that runs along Ketchikan’s Creek Street flows with spawning salmon, and trees throughout the city boast bald eagle nests. For instance, park at City Hall or the South Tongass Fire Department, and you can see the eagle nests in the surrounding trees. While birdwatching, keep your eyes peeled for the famous North American totem poles found throughout the area. The culture also extends to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center featuring exhibits that explore the culture and ecology of the state.

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2. Juneau

Juneau

North of Ketchikan on the panhandle is Juneau. Although it’s the state capital, it’s just a small city in comparison to Anchorage. What it lacks in size, Juneau makes up for with access to Alaska’s wilderness. From Juneau, you can explore Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, made up of mountains, rivers, and fjords. This 3.3 million-acre World Heritage Site offers both cultural and natural beauty from the Huna Tribal House to ranger-led tours. Another natural area is Tracy Arm Fjord, where you can view glaciers up close, boat around huge bobbing hunks of ice (even in the summer), and catch sight of wolves, harbor seals, and black bears. If you want to stay close to your Alaskan vacation rental in Juneau, then opt for the city delights of Glacier Gardens, an extension of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a temperate rain forest featuring such botanical marvels as the upside down flower trees. Finish off your weekend away at the Alaska Brewing Company, a 47,000-square-foot brewery with tours and tastings.

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3. Seward

seward alaska

Seward lies just south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. Located at the foot of Mount Marathon and on Resurrection Bay, this town is literally surrounded by Alaskan beauty, with Kenai Fjords National Park to the west and Chugach National Forest to the north and east. Exit Glacier Guides offers a number of adventures from the naturalist hike, a relatively easy 2.4-mile round trip through Resurrection Valley, to the intense 8.2-mile Harding Icefield hike along Exit Glacier. Seward’s not just the front door to wilderness paradise — it’s also a historic gold rush town and the starting point of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. With this in mind, explore the area via Seavey’s IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours to get into the spirit of the past. Stop at the Alaska Railroad Historic Depot for early 20th-century history. Because Seward is located on the North Pacific Ocean, tour the Alaska SeaLife Center for a close look at the aquatic life including puffins and sea lions. Finish off with some super-fresh seafood at Ray’s Waterfront and Alaska Seafood Grill.

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4. Hope

Hope Alaska
Source: Flickr/Maureen

Hope is just across the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet from Anchorage. It’s close enough to the big city for a stop via a ferry ride and far enough for solitude. Enjoy the access to the mountains and rivers by stopping at the Chugach Outdoor Center for a number of guided-trips including a whitewater rafting trip down Six Mile Creek. The Class IV and V rapids carry awe-inspiring names, such as Suckhole and Jaws. For a milder tour of the area, set out on a Turnagain Pass float trip. Hope is also one of the best-preserved gold rush towns in Alaska. Learn about its history at the Hope Historical Museum, and tour the Crow Creek Historic Gold Mine.

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5. Seldovia

Seldovia Alaska
Source: Susan E Adams

Seldovia is on the point of Kenai Peninsula, only a boat trip up Cook Inlet to some bigger cities, including Anchorage. The only way to get to Seldovia is by boat. Its location on the Gulf of Alaska and away from big-city buzz makes it the perfect place to enjoy nature unfettered. Relax on a fishing trip with Rainbow Tours. You can bask in the beauty of Kachemak Bay while catching some fresh halibut for dinner. Next, take a walk down the historic Seldovia boardwalk, stopping at a few of the shops such as Alaska Tribal Cache or Linwood Bar and Grill for dinner.

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6. Moose Pass

Chugach National Forest
Source: Flickr/USDA Forest Service Alaska Region

Moose Pass is one of the few inland towns on the list of top weekend getaways. Located midway between Hope and Seward, it’s not far from the bigger towns, but it’s still pleasantly remote. Take an air tour of Moose Pass and the Chugach National Forest with Scenic Mountain Air for an overview of the area before hiking out on foot. Vagt Lake Trail is an easy hike that culminates at a lake for some fishing or a picnic lunch. While the town doesn’t have much in the way of stores, it has a few quaint shops and grocery stores where you can stock up on souvenirs and food during your weekend. The Moose Drop-In Trading Post has homemade treats, basic food items, and souvenirs.

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7. Girdwood

Alyeska Mountain stream
Source: Flickr/Luke Jones

Girdwood is just an hour from Anchorage. Regardless of the season, it offers various outdoor adventures, from hiking to skiing. Start off at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This animal sanctuary houses injured or orphaned local wildlife including reindeer, lynx, musk ox, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and bald eagles. After establishing a working knowledge of the life that surrounds Girdwood, go hiking up Byron Glacier Trail. There are several local tours available, such as air tours via Alpine Air Alaska, boat tours via Alaska Wild Guides, and Girdwood Bike Adventures. If you’re visiting during winter, hit the ski slopes of Alyeska, featuring some of the best powder and trails in the state.

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8. Sitka

Sitka Alaska

Sitka is an island town in Alaska’s panhandle. It’s the place where Alaska changed hands from the Russians to the Americans in 1867. Sitka’s role in Alaskan history is celebrated every year at the Alaska Day Festival with a transfer ceremony, a ball, a parade, and other fun. If you’re not in town for the ceremony, catch up on history at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, the Baranof Castle State Historical Site, and Sitka National Historic Totem Park. Sitka’s mountains and old pine forests just beg to be explored, which you can do with Sitka Wildlife Tours and Specialized Tours of Sitka. These services offer exploration opportunities from boat tours to guided hikes along Mount Verstovia or Starrigavin Ridge.

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